Monday, February 19, 2024

I Started a NON-Gratitude Journal. It's Changed My Life

I know, everybody recommends having some form of gratitude practice like for instance a gratitude journal.  There are countless videos and blogs talking about it. There is even scientific research proving the mental and physical benefits of having a gratitude practice.  

Yet, instead of writing a gratitude journal, I've decided to keep a non-gratitude journal. Instead of focusing on what I feel grateful about I've decided to focus on what I don't feel grateful about.  

I know that might sound pretty strange and perhaps stupid, but believe it or not, this practice has had a very positive impact on my life.

Let me explain.

The problem with gratitude journals

There are a couple of issues that I have with a typical gratitude journal where you list the three or five things that you feel grateful for.

The first issue is what are you supposed to do in a moment of crisis, when you've been hit by one of life's blows?  What would you do if you were in the middle of a breakdown?  Do you think you'll be able to focus on the things that you feel grateful for?

Maybe you can, and if that's the case, well then this blog is probably not for you.  But if you are anything like me, during a crisis, the last thing you'll be able to do is thinking about the things you feel grateful for. 

What I'm trying to say is that when life is going smoothly then focusing on the good in your life is very easy.  But when it really matters, when the burdens of life seem far too overwhelming then you'll be very lucky to be able to feel grateful about anything.  Right?

And it doesn't even have to be a crisis.  Even small life problems sometimes create a cascade of negative emotions that stay with us day and night without resolution.  I'm sure you've experienced this.  

But then if we try to ignore these emotional reactions and focus instead on the things that we are grateful for, wouldn't that be like sweeping dust under the carpet? Shouldn't we instead try to resolve what we are dealing with first?

And the second issue that I have with having a gratitude journal, is that having to think about what you are grateful for to feel good, in my opinion, is like training yourself to be happy only when you have things to feel happy about.  

I know, there will always be things that we can feel grateful for but, personally, I want to train myself to be happy no matter what. I want to learn to be happy under any circumstances, in the good and in the bad.

So I want a tool that I can use not only when things are going well but especially in moments of crisis so that I can learn to cope better with the situation and remain present, calm, and balanced. 

And the tool that I've found for this purpose is a non-gratitude journal (a.k.a. ingratitude journal, antigratitude journal, or ungrateful journal).  

What is a non-gratitude journal?

So what exactly is a non-gratitude journal then?

Well, first a typical gratitude journal, or gratitude list is about noticing all the good in your life, saying thanks for it, and cultivating a positive emotional attitude toward what you do have instead of focusing on what you don't have.

Similarly, when I write a non-gratitude journal I list the things that I don't feel grateful for but then of course I don't just go on dwelling on my negative reactions cultivating more negative emotions, that would be crazy.

I do try to experience my emotions fully.  That's a very important first step.  But then I try to understand why I'm having the emotional reaction that I'm having.

So first I use my non-gratitude journal to identify what I'm not feeling grateful for and to express all the thoughts and emotions connected to all those things in my list.  Then I use it to dig deeper so that I can figure out what thoughts are making me react in this way.  And finally I try to realize if it is necessary to feel in this way or if there is an alternative.  

And guess what, there is always an alternative.  We do have the freedom to change the way we feel in any situation

It's not very easy, but the answer lies in the uncovering of the unconscious thoughts that reside deep in our minds, our beliefs.

So the purpose of this non-gratitude journal is to discover the unconscious negative beliefs that are making us react in any particular way.  

Our beliefs are sort of like the glasses through which we experience reality.  Whatever situation I'm going through I will always interpret it through the filter of my beliefs.  My personal experience of reality is defined by the beliefs I'm holding.   

The good thing is that just by bringing to our conscious awareness the negative beliefs that are holding us back we can then let them go and replace them with more constructive or positive beliefs.

How to write a non-gratitude journal?

So in practice, how exactly do I write a non-gratitude journal?  I guess you've been asking yourself that question. 

First, in my daily journal, instead of asking myself what I am grateful about today, I literally ask what I am not grateful about today, or more simply what I'm not happy about today, what is it that is bothering me today?

Then I ask questions such as:

  • How does this make me feel?
  • What is it that I am thinking or believing about this situation that is making me feel this way?  
  • Is it a fact or is it a belief?
  • How does feeling like this serve me? 
  • Is it really necessary?  Do I really need to feel this way?
  • What would happen if I didn't experience this negative emotion in this situation?
  • Is there any other way to interpret my current situation to change the way that I'm feeling?

And in this way, I keep asking and answering questions until I come across a belief that is holding me back.  

By the end of my non-gratitude journal quite often I feel much better than when I started.  Feelings of anxiety or sadness might be replaced with a sense of calm or joy.  But of course, this is not always the case, and that's alright.  

The important thing is to put in the time to work on yourself.  Just knowing that you are dealing with your problems in a proactive way will already make you feel empowered. And eventually, if you keep digging, the answers will come.

Besides the mere act of unloading yourself from the problems that you are dealing with by putting them down on paper can give you mental relief by creating space and perspective.  So just writing down what you are dealing with and how you feel about it can be very therapeutic.  

Questioning methods for a non-gratitude journal

If you are still not sure about how to have this dialogue with yourself and you want some further guidance, I suggest you read the book The Option Method, Unlock Your Happiness with 5 Simple Questions by Bruce Di Marsico (Amazon Affiliate Link).  It is very clear and easy to read.

When I first started with this type of self-inquiry I used the Option Method to ask questions.  Nowadays I do it more freestyle.  The questions change depending on the situation.  

Sometimes the only thing I need to ask is what I'm not grateful about today, and then just by expressing myself freely in my journal the answers come, and my mindset changes.

You might also consider reading the book Loving What Is, Four Questions that Can Change Your Life, by Byron Katie (Amazon Affiliate Link).

This book talks about another self-inquiry method known as The Work.

Both of these methods use a set of questions that aim at uncovering whatever negative beliefs are holding us back.  They are both very simple yet very powerful.  But you gotta put in the time to do the work.  This is definitely not a five-minute journal.  

How my non-gratitude journal has changed my life 

Now, luckily oftentimes when I ask myself, what I am not grateful about today I find nothing to complain about.  

And here is the beauty of this.  

When that happens, when I realize that I have nothing to complain about, that naturally gives me a sense of joy and gratitude, without any effort. Especially when the previous days I've been dealing with some issues but through my non-gratitude journal I've been able to change my beliefs or my perspective of the situation and now I have a very different emotional response.

The things that I wasn't grateful for now don't affect me anymore or I might actually feel more positive about them.

This to me is a life changer. 

Imagine having the power to change our emotional response in front of any situation just by using a journal to change our unconscious beliefs.

A non-gratitude journal is about self-work

But again, this takes time.  If you read my previous blog you know that my journals are at least three pages or 750 words long, and when I have to do self-work like this they can be more than 2000 words long.  

Compare that to a couple of minutes that might take you to write the three things that you feel grateful for today.  A non-gratitude journal is really about self-work and self-work takes time.  But it's totally worth it in my opinion. 

Because it's not just about feeling good.  The point is that whenever we are having a negative emotional response we are simply not living life to the fullest and in the present moment.  We are instead running away from the present.

So by paying attention to the things that we are not grateful for we have the opportunity to work on ourselves and change our perspective of the situation.  And this I believe has had a much bigger impact on my life than simply writing a gratitude list.

But anyway, I'm not saying that you shouldn't keep a gratitude journal.  It takes less than five minutes.  There is no reason not to do it, but maybe at the same time, you can give this non-gratitude journal a try and see how it works in your life.  

And if you do so please let me know what is your experience.  Feel free to share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.  Thank you!


  1. Dear Marco,
    I totally agree with you. I'm sick and tired of keeping my emotions quiet. Why do we have to be ashamed of our feelings? Why do we have always to show the best of us?
    We are human beings. Sometimes we are happy and sometimes we are sad or angry. Why do we have to feel guilty about this ?
    God ( all gods of all religion ) or the "Universe" made us in his image. He is Love but sometimes he is very angry or sad, it's in the bible !
    I think it's better to accept it , and make peace with it, and this non-gratitude journal is a great idea.
    Gratitude from France !

    1. Thank you dear Karen for sharing your thoughts and I am happy to know that you agree with the benefits of having a non-gratitude journal. ๐Ÿ™๐Ÿ™๐Ÿ™

  2. Very well explained. We are told to keep a journal on our issues and after a period of time we, when we read the list of our issues, we would or should realise that they are not significant .

    That is half truth. Writing it out means taking it out of our mind and placing it on a paper. We need to ask all the questions you have stated above before we come to a realisation and understanding on how the issues is affecting our emotions and behaviours.

    Only then we will be able to consciously decide or deal with the issue : if we should accept ,act or just feel relieved that its OK to feel this way and that would bring a sense of calmness and happiness back to our life's.Slowly but certainly. Thank you , you have explained it very well.

    1. Yes, exactly. I have talked more about this in previous blog posts:

      10 Reasons Why You Should Start a Spiritual Journal Today
      Is Journaling More Powerful Than Meditation?

      I suggest you take a look at them. You'll find lots of interesting ideas there as well.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts btw ๐Ÿ™